“Who do you think stayed here before us?” Ella asked. She sat on one of the two twin beds, on the yellow, orange and green floral comforter. It was starched almost stiff and straight out of the gaudy seventies.
Milo looked over from his bags. “What do you mean?”
“I mean who do you think’s stayed here? This is a motel- each room probably gets at least a hundred guests a year. Who do you think they were? And why here?”
Milo shrugged. He unfolded a white button down and shook it out in front of them. “Whoever they were,” he murmured, “they definitely weren’t rich.” He walked over to the fake wood wardrobe. It squeaked when he opened it, and he gave a small smile that just almost revealed his dimples. “See?”
Ella wanted to say, ‘I’m glad you’re talking again. I’m glad you’re smiling,’ but she didn’t want to remind him of the fact. She didn’t know what that would make him do, if it would make him swirl into that terrible state of nothingness again. So she bit that thought back, and grinned at him. “What? This doesn’t feel like luxury to you?”
“Els, the water comes out orange.”
“See, I thought that was pretty awesome. Like, we’re too cool for normal colored water.”
Milo gave a short laugh that he tried to pass off as a cough. “Yeah, well, most people don’t think like that.”
“Okay, so maybe they are poor, but maybe they just want to try something new.”
He rolled his eyes at her and went to get another shirt out of his bags. “Yeah?” he said, “and how did they like the new experience of washing their faces with rust?”
“They loved it.”
“No. That’s not how people are. That’s not how normal people are. Normal people, they like comfort. They like knowing that the water they’re bathing in isn’t going to give them some flesh eating disease, and they like knowing that the person –"
“It’s okay, Milo,” she said quietly. On the bed, next to Ella, the baby shifted in her carrier. “Why don’t you try holding her again?” she asked.
Milo turned away. “So, who are these people, anyway?”
“I don’t know. Brother and sister, maybe?”
“No. Not brother and sister.”
“Okay, but, you know, you’re not really helping. Who do you think they are?”
“Yeah, because two people who know absolutely nothing about each other choosing to share a motel room is wicked likely.”
“Dude, Ella," he said, looking up at her, “you’re the writer. You’re the one who’s good at making this stuff up.”
She gave a tiny pink smile. “Come on, you know I’m only good at writing it down. You were always way better than me at making it all up. Like, remember when we were kids and you made up the story about the man in the woods who-”
“Okay, so they’re not strangers." He looked at the baby on the bed. Looked at the chocolate earth fuzz on her head. At the shut petals keeping the churning ocean eyes she got from her mother safe. His daughter. He swallowed and looked away; it was just too hard. "Okay, they're friends. Friends looking for something new."
Ella pushed back the wriggly curls of her hair out of her eyes. "You sure you don't want to hold her?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure. I would only wake her up, anyway." He hesitated, and walked over to the window. The curtains were the exact match to the bed spread. Awful. He opened them, but it was too overcast for any sunlight to pour through. Outside, on the small navy stone parking lot was his blue car. It still had a couple bags of luggage in its backseat, but they could wait. It was starting to rain snow, anyway, slush pouring down and landing melted in the cracks of the rocky ground. Kids smoking cigarettes under the safety of the eaves laughed and flicked ash into the shivery thunder air until the wind was too much for them, even, and they jostled inside, leaving the brown door banging. The cigarettes in the damp stone ashtray blew away. They swirled carelessly in the wind only to be pounded and pelted back to the ground by the heavy slush. One got stuck in the rocks. Milo shut his eyes briefly and turned back to Ella and fluorescent yellow lights. They flickered, a little.
"Looking for something new," he added quietly, "but they don't know exactly what it is, yet."
"Like how everyone is, or different?"
"I don't know. Maybe both."
Ella opened her mouth to ask what he could possibly mean by that, but something in Milo's eyes made her change her mind. "How old are they?" she murmured, instead.
Milo blinked. "Not old," he started, "Maybe early twenties? Like us?"
Ella nodded, wrapping her arms around herself. It was getting kind of cold. "That works," she said. "Did they go to college?"
"Maybe they did, but they didn't stay. They couldn't finish because they didn't want to have to get a job afterwards, and have kids. Or they didn't want to have to. Not yet. Not until they understood everything better."
"And now they're here."
"Were here," Milo corrected, and then sighed. He leaned against the white washed walls. "Weren't here," he said. "None of this is actually real, and it's retarded. Who cares if some kids were annoyed once because life isn't how they expected it to be? I didn't expect my life to be like it is, either. I didn't expect her to leave, or disappear, or whatever she it is did."
Ella got up from the bed. She wondered if she should hug him, but it'd been so long since she'd last done that that she couldn't. She went to the thermostat instead, and tapped it. "You know," she said, her open face turned away. "None of this is your fault."
He laughed, but it was bitter.
She glanced over, fighting with her body to not reveal to her brother how helpless she was feeling. "This room has a microwave, right?" she offered, "because the baby will probably be awake soon and I thought I should start getting some formula ready for her. No orange water for this kid."
Milo wandered over to the bed and sat, his face buried in his hands. "I should be looking for her," he whispered.
"It's been a month. Please, you can't go on like this."
Milo grabbed his coat. "Yeah, I can," he said.
"You have no reason to believe that she's over here. You don't even know if she's alive!"
Milo blinked. "She's my wife," he croaked, and walked out the door with a gush of frosty wind. His grey jacket blended perfectly with his surroundings, Ella thought. A small uncertain part of her wondered if she'd ever see him again. She wondered if she should run after him, to stop him from doing anything stupid. She was his sister, after all. But she didn't. She looked at the baby sleeping in the carrier like a frozen photograph, and went to her.
Okay, so I was just wondering what you guys thought of this? Is it too vague, or do you like that? I edited it a lot to make it more obvious that Ella and Milo are siblings, and the baby is Milo's child. Did you get it, and did you like that it wasn't totally clear until it was nearing the end? Any other comments would be awesome, too. Thanks!